UFC Fight Night in Columbus, Ohio, delivered with the dust settling on three divisions as Curtis Blaydes, Alexa Grasso and Kai Kara-France put on a show while putting the current champions on notice. Will any of the three get a title fight with their next matchup?
Blaydes certainly hopes so, as the fighter openly called out for a title shot next. Blaydes mentioned Stipe Miocic, who was in attendance to watch the festivities, while in the Octagon for his postfight interview. With the future of Francis Ngannou and his reign as heavyweight champion in question, could we see Blaydes fighting for the interim belt this summer?
Brett Okamoto, Jeff Wagenheim and Carlos Contreras Legaspi break down the Saturday card, including Neil Magny joining Georges St-Pierre on the very top of the welterweight leaderboard and Marc Diakiese displaying exceptional grappling ability in his performance versus Viacheslav Borshchev.
What does the future hold for Curtis Blaydes?
Who should be next: Stipe Miocic
Man, I think it might be Miocic. Why not? The only reason it wouldn’t be is if Miocic is fighting Jon Jones (presumably for an interim title). This division is rather messy, but understandably so. Francis Ngannou is out the rest of the year due to knee surgery. That likely means an interim title fight is happening. Who are the obvious candidates for an interim title fight? Miocic and Jones. But is Jones fighting? He says he is, but where is the evidence? Why hasn’t the UFC booked it yet? Jones has been talking about this move to heavyweight for the better part of a decade now. When is it happening? If Jones is ready to, then that’s the fight. Miocic vs. Jones. But I’m starting to wonder if/when we see Jones fight again. The UFC needs to get to the bottom of it. And if Jones isn’t ready to go soon, then Miocic vs. Blaydes is the fight to make.
If not Miocic? Ciryl Gane
Gane is coming off a title unification loss to Ngannou in January. It was a disappointing loss for Gane, in that he went up on the scorecards early but couldn’t deal with Ngannou’s wrestling as the bout wore on. If he had trouble with Ngannou’s wrestling, he’s likely to have a tough time with Blaydes. However, this is the apparent fight to make from a rankings perspective if Blaydes doesn’t fight for an interim title. It would be a tough draw stylistically for Gane, but if he wants to be in the very top echelon of this division, he can’t have any weaknesses. There’s a chance he might need to prove he can wrestle against one of the very best in the division his next time out. — Okamoto
Grasso shows off her complete game in Columbus
Sometimes, a year off can be a good thing for a fighter. For Alexa Grasso, making something good out of a streak of cancellations and working on her jiu-jitsu with her Brazilian coach and training partner Diego Lopes was a top priority. She knew that her pace could make Joanne Wood struggle on their feet, and she was looking for a statement by showing her improved ground game.
The Guadalajara-born fighter was close to submitting the former strawweight champion, Carla Esparza, in Mexico City in 2019. She promised her coaches the first submission of her career this time and she delivered against Wood, who had been submitted in three of her last five fights.
In a division where Valentina Shevchenko seems untouchable, Grasso knows she needs to bring a complete game to call for her attention. It was also the first finish in the promotion for her. Both Viviane Araujo — who was supposed to face her at UFC 270 in January — and Manon Fiorot, who picked up a big win against former title contender Jennifer Maia on Saturday night, could be the perfect matchup for a No. 1 contender fight next. — Legaspi
Whoa or Meh: Diakiese flips the script, Rosa lacks answers
Diakiese came to MMA from kickboxing. So did Borshchev. So who would have expected their lightweight bout to play out like a grappling contest? The fans did not get the fisticuffs they had anticipated, but that did not make this fight a total downer because it showed us something. It was a tribute to Diakiese that he proved himself well-rounded enough to dominate on the canvas. The Congolese-British lightweight had 11 takedowns, tied for third-most ever in the division. Diakiese piled up 12 minutes, 24 seconds of control time in the 15-minute fight, which he won by unanimous decision (30-27, 30-27, 30-27) to end a two-fight losing streak with an impressive display.
Just like Diakiese vs. Borshchev, the fight right before it between bantamweights Sara McMann and Karol Rosa took place mainly on the canvas, with McMann maintaining control for 10:27. What was disappointing about that? I mean, good for the 41-year-old McMann, a 2004 Olympic silver medalist in wrestling, that she could so thoroughly be in control. But so much more was expected of Rosa. She came in on a six-fight winning streak and was a more than 2-to-1 betting favorite. But on this night, she had no answers. — Wagenheim
Put some respect on Kara-France’s name with a title shot
Kai Kara-France tells the story about meeting Joe Burrow for the first time and having no idea who he was.
That didn’t look like a strong possibility for the gym’s Kai Kara-France in the opening moments of his flyweight bout with Askar Askarov. The undefeated Russian took Kara-France to the canvas less than 90 seconds, quickly seized dominant position and threatened a submission for much of the first round. But from that point on, it was Kara-France’s fight. He fended off all but one of Askarov’s 10 takedown attempts the rest of the way. He hurt him with punches and put him on retreat in Round 2. After Askarov (14-1-1) seized a body triangle and again chased a submission in the final round, the New Zealander peeled him off and went on the attack until the final horn. Kara-France then jumped on the cage and motioned for a belt around his waist and soon had his hand raised for a unanimous decision victory in Columbus.
“Hey, I know Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo are fighting very soon. I want the next title shot!” yelled Kara-France, referring to this summer’s expected fourth straight meeting between the champion in Figueiredo and former belt holder Moreno. Kara-France, who was fighting — and winning his third in a row against a ranked opponent — on his 29th birthday, showed that he belongs in a title fight. And he also showed that, even when he struggles at the start, Kara-France is not going to make anyone’s night easy. — Wagenheim
Magny coming level with St-Pierre is a big deal
Neil Magny earning his 19th win at welterweight is an impressive accomplishment. George St-Pierre is arguably the greatest fighter of all time, and Magny will likely surpass him in the win column later this year. It’s understood that Magny is not the talent that St-Pierre ever was when he was active. It’s also understood that Magny’s mark is not the same as GSP’s because the Canadian superstar consistently fought the best of his era as the dominant welterweight champion. I am not suggesting that Magny’s 19 wins in the UFC’s 170-pound division are equal to St-Pierre’s. They are not, and history will not confuse the two.
But in some ways, the fact that Magny is not a generational talent like St-Pierre makes his feat more impressive. No one would have ever predicted this career for Magny, a seventh pick on The Ultimate Fighter series back in 2012, who began his UFC career 1-2. Magny has consistently gotten the most out of his skills; he’s always in shape, active and deserves recognition for this achievement. Unless he can finally get over the hump and earn a title shot, fans won’t remember him as one of the greatest welterweights of all time or even one of the very best welterweights of his generation. And yet, he will likely go down as the most successful welterweight in the history of the UFC based on his win count. Nitpick that all you want, it’s a massive deal. — Okamoto
Fiorot is flying up the ranks — which isn’t a bad thing
The women’s flyweight division is so completely wide open, it actually poses a constant risk of rushing its prospects. It happened to Maycee Barber, as she jumped up the rankings too quickly and took a loss against Roxanne Modafferi. It happened to Cynthia Calvillo, as she looked good against Jessica Eye, but subsequently lost three in a row to Katlyn Chookagian, Jessica Andrade and Andrea Lee. Casey O’Neill grabbed our attention in 2021 with three consecutive wins, but she nearly lost to a retiring Modafferi last month and we’ll see how she stacks up in a Top 10 fight against Eye this summer.
The risk isn’t necessarily bad, but it’s worth monitoring given the state of the division. Valentina Shevchenko has been a dominant champion and she needs new blood, and Manon Fiorot could be next. Fiorot, who just convincingly beat No. 4-ranked Jennifer Maia, might be stalled for the immediate future. Sometimes, the fast track is the right path, and based on Fiorot’s experience in karate and Muay Thai, along with her unique, long-range style — she shouldn’t fall victim to growing pains. Will she eventually beat Shevchenko? Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. But she’s in the Top 5 to stay now, in my opinion, and she’s ready for it. — Okamoto